WASHINGTON — Approximately 44 million turkeys were Thanksgiving dinner in the United States last year, but on Tuesday at the White House, one lucky bird was spared a similar fate.
President Donald Trump enthusiastically participated in the time-honored tradition of the turkey pardon, granting clemency to a bird in the White House Rose Garden before jetting off to Mar-a-Lago for a long holiday weekend.
Hailing from South Dakota, this year’s pardon contestants are named Peas and Carrots. During the ceremony, Trump announced that Peas was the winner of the vote to receive a presidential pardon.
“That turkey is so lucky. I’ve never seen such a beautiful turkey,” Trump said of Peas, who ruffled its feathers in front of a crowd of onlookers in the Rose Garden.
The poultry pair’s journey to Washington was a veritable gravy train.
Presidential turkeys are raised separately from their soon-to-be-stuffed counterparts, according to the South Dakota Soybean Research and Promotion Council.
Per the council, Peas and Carrots lived in their own house away from the other turkeys and were handled regularly to “get used to people and activity,” as it is important that they wouldn’t be in a fowl mood for their big day.
Weighing in at 39 and 41 pounds, respectively, Peas and Carrots hatched in late June of this year. Since then, the fluffy duo has developed a social media presence, knowing the importance of appealing to the baste.
Picking who to pardon
The National Turkey Federation documented their trip from the Dakotas all the way to Washington via the warm backseat of a wood shaving-filled Suburban.
Upon their arrival, the duo rested up for their big day blocks away from the White House at the luxe Willard Hotel.
Peas and Carrots took the stage at a formal news conference Monday morning at the Willard and fun facts about each turkey were posted on the Turkey Federation’s account. Peas, for instance, enjoys popcorn and the musical stylings of Brad Paisley. Carrots is more of an Elvis fan, preferring to snack on M&Ms.
As of Tuesday morning, the poll for a favorite turkey on the official White House account was tied 50-50 with just under 50,000 votes — certainly within the margin of error for a recount.
Trump said the vote was decided by a “fair and open election” — no fowl play involved. But he teased that Carrots refused to concede and demanded a recount, although that didn’t change the outcome.
“That’s too bad for Carrots,” Trump said.
Although a president traditionally pardons one turkey, both Peas and Carrots will live out the rest of their turkey lives — an expectancy of 10 years — at Virginia Tech’s “Gobblers Rest” exhibit, where they will be cared for by students and veterinarians in the university’s Animal and Poultry Sciences Department.
Trump poked fun by saying that House Democrats may try to ruffle some feathers and subpoena the turkeys as they live out their retirement.
“It won’t be entirely a rest. Even though Peas and Carrots have received a presidential pardon, I have warned them that House Democrats are likely to issue them both subpoenas,” Trump joked.
Rumors of turkey pardons go back in presidential history as far as the Lincoln administration. Folklore has it that Lincoln’s young son asked his father to spare a pet turkey that was supposed to be part of their Thanksgiving dinner.
The competition of the delivery became national news in the 1920s when a turkey from Texas sent to President Woodrow Wilson in a White House-shaped crate battled outside the White House with a turkey from Kentucky. The Kentucky turkey emerged victorious, per the White House Historical Association.
The National Turkey Federation became the official turkey supplier to the first family in 1947 and the formal turkey presentation ceremony has been around since President Harry Truman. Truman was the first to accept a turkey from them — however, he did not spare the bird.
The first documented turkey pardon was given by President John F. Kennedy in 1963.
Pardoning the turkeys didn’t catch on right away. Even though President Gerald Ford pardoned President Richard Nixon, neither one of them decided to officially pardon any turkeys.
Turkey pardoning became the norm in the White House in 1989 when President George H.W. Bush revived the tradition, now a staple of the White House holiday season.